by Bret W.
Many films have been made about the Vietnam conflict and the state of American society at that time. Full Metal Jacket, however, is the definitive Vietnam war film. Kubrick captures the full scope of the journey from boot camp to Mei Cong, and it’s not a pretty trip.
It starts with the dehumanizing of the young Marine recruits, first at the Paris Island barbershop, and later in their first introduction to the Drill Instructor. The D.I. has a job to do and he does it well: he breaks the individual spirit to build a team, a single unit of men from a kaleidescope of boys. The journey for the recruits is long and dark and difficult, and takes each recruit down a different path. For Pvt. Joker, its a journey from the smart-alec kid to the hardened stand-up man. For Pvt. Pyle, however, its a much darker journey that takes him to the depths of his inner evil and ends in two deaths.
From Paris Island to Vietnam, the tone is shifted from the strict regimen of boot camp to the lax atmosphere of death and destruction. Joker has become a field journalist for Stars and Stripes, the military news paper. He’s become disillusioned with his duties in mocking up his stories to make them seem more positive to the soldiers who read them. Sent to the front on a field assignment after the Tet Offensive, he meets up with Cowboy, who was in Joker’s unit at Paris Island. They take their squad into Hue City (pronounced “Way”) to face death and destruction, and the frustration and impotence of war.
Full Metal Jacket is a stark depiction of one of the blackest spots on American History. Kubrick masterfully shows the full range of emotion throughout; the fear and anguish, the anger and loneliness, the frustration and cockiness. He touches on all of it without holding back.
I once said that this was the definitive Vietnam movie, but it’s more than that. It’s the definitive war movie. It shows much more than just the killing and the death. It shows the aloof calm exterior hiding the tense unsure interior. It examines the depths of the war and how the war makes the evil inside men acceptable and justified.
Kubrick puts all of these elements under the microscope and presents them to the audience in their rawest form to give to us the finest war movie ever made.